July 30, 2010

Scouring The Continent

"Tomorrow It Will Be Better" (1939)
In what countries were coming attractions slides commonly used?  Answering this question is a major aspect of my research.  Thus far I have seen or acquired examples from Australia, Canada, England,  India, and the United States.

Though admittedly my search is still in its early stages, I have been quite surprised not to have found examples in European countries (UK excepted).  Based on their rich cinema traditions, I had high expectations of at least finding French, German, and Italian slides, but so far I have come up empty. 


"'Tomorrow It Will Be Better' with Lilly Bouwmeester coming soon to this theatre!"

The only exception thus far is are two handmade slides in the collection at Netherlands Filmmuseum (recently renamed EYE Film Instituut Nederland.)   These two slides herald the upcoming 1939 Dutch film Morgen Gaat Het Beter (Tomorrow It Will Be Better) produced by Neerlandia.

As you can see, one of the slides features a drawing of a man being thrown from a horse (which presumably has something to do with the plot), while the second slide explains in text that the film stars Lilly Bowmeester and that it's coming soon to this theatre.

Were professionally produced coming attraction slides used in Europe?  Surely there must have been.  My quest?  Find them!

July 29, 2010

Dietrich and Davis

Today I'm setting aside "the history" of coming attraction slides and simply enjoying "the art."  Here are two of my favorites, Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus (1932) and Bette Davis in Dark Victory (1939).  These slides lack all the graphic elements typically employed to convey genre, setting, plot, period, etc.  Likewise missing is sensational text ("action packed!" "romantic" "don't miss!) or for that matter, any text at all.  Without literally telling you anything about the film, they in fact tell you everything you really need to know.

Blonde Venus (1932)


Dark Victory (1939)

July 28, 2010

Remove Before Projecting

Last Thursday I described the two primary manufacturing designs for coming attraction slides.  The original design used two identically sized glass panes (a glass sandwich) in which the image-carrying glass pane by covered by a second clear glass pane which protected the vulnerable photographic emulsion.  An alternative slide design was introduced in 1924 which utilized only the image-carrying glass pane embedded within a surrounding cardboard frame.
Coquette (1929)

The cardboard frame design was patented (Patent #1,500,025) by Alvin L. Mayer of Long Island, New York, and boasted the advantages of lower weight and reduced manufacturing cost.  One disadvantage of Mayer's design was that by eliminating the protective pane of clear glass, the slide's image-carrying emulsion was exposed to scratches, dirt, and damage.

Of course, for a product originally designed to be discarded after use, this was probably not considered to be much of a downside. 

Slide for Coquette (1929) with cardboard shield in place
In his design, Mayer addressed the issue by including  a removable cardboard shield which covered the glass during transport:  "In order that the emulsion or film side of the plate may be further protected during transportation, the opening in one of the end sections may be temporarily closed by a shield which is easily detached before the plate is exposed."  

Until the other day I had never seen an example of a slide with the cardboard shield still attached.  Fortunately, a friend/collector shared with me a slide of of Mary Pickford's Cocquette (1929) manufactured by Combined Photo Industries, Inc., which still included the the protective shield.  Now I know it's hard to get too excited about a 2 7/8" by 2 3/8" cardboard square, but having never actually a slide with the shield in place I thought it was pretty cool.

Finally, as a post script for the technically minded of you, here's the diagram from the original patent application.  I have used yellow to highlight references to the protective shield (labeled A2 in the diagram).

Diagram for Lantern Slide patent #1,500,025 (granted July 1, 1924)

July 27, 2010

Coming Attraction Slides in the Middle East?

Recently I have come across two advertising slides for Telma, a manufacturer of kosher instant soup.  From the information I have, these slides were used during the 1950s in cinemas in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and elsewhere Israel and promoted an instant form of kosher chicken soup with smoked beef. 

The listing for these glass slides indicates that they measure "around  3.5 x 3.5."  My guess is that this is slightly inaccurate and that the slides actually measure a square 3 ¼ inches which was the standard outside the U.S.

The existence of these slides interests me mostly because they provide evidence that at least some number of Israeli cinemas were equipped with projectors for screening lantern slides, raising the question as to whether glass slides were also used in Israel (or anywhere in the Middle East) to advertise coming attractions. 

Thus far in my search I have only found coming attraction slides in a fairly small number of countries, and none in the Middle East or Africa. 

If you know of examples or have knowledge or experience coming attractions in these locales, please take a minute and share what you know.  Likewise, if you're fluent in Hebrew, it would be wonderful to have accurate translations for the two slides pictured above.

July 26, 2010

See Your Favorite Star in ___________!

Mary Pickford In Paramount Pictures (c. 1915-16)
Buster Keaton Comedies (c. 1921-26)
Closely related to slides used to promote individual screen personalities are those that generically advertise an upcoming film starring a specific performer.  These slides advertised that a film featuring the star was coming soon, but it was up to the exhibitor to fill in the title.

Presumably these slides were effective only for the biggest stars who would draw an audience regardless of the vehicle.  Perhaps this format also provided flexibility to exhibitors who may not have had an advertising slide on hand for a specific title.
Portrait by Moody Studios (1915)

Keaton publicity photo (1921)

The examples here are for Mary Pickford appearing in Paramount Pictures produced by Famous Players, and Buster Keaton in Joe Schenck productions distributed by Metro Pictures.  By looking at when Keaton and Pickford released films with these associations, it is possible to assign time frames of 1921-26 to the Keaton slide and 1913-16 to Pickford.

In attempting to further narrow these time frames I tracked down the original photos on which the slides were based.  The Keaton image is a publicity shot from General Photographic Agency dated August 6, 1921.  Unfortunately this was of little help in narrowing the time frame for the slide.  The Pickford image however originates from a 1915 portrait which, meaning that the slide could only have been produced and relevant in the years 1915 and 1916.

July 25, 2010

A Star (System) is Born

Coming attraction slides were not used only to promote specific films.  With the emergence of the Hollywood star system, studio advertising increasingly leveraged the drawing power of their performers.  According to researcher Mitchell A. Flagg "By 1909, picture personalities began to appear in films, either using their own names or names the public assigned to them... film companies built brand loyalty through product individuation—the recognition and identification of an actor from film to film." 
Artcraft Pictures advertising Douglas Fairbanks (c. 1917-19) and Mary Pickford (c. 1913-15)
 Film historians today recognize Florence Lawrence as the first publicly recognized movie star.  Lawrence first appeared on screen in 1906 and over time became exceptionally (though anonymously) popular with a public that knew her only as "The Biograph Girl,"  known only by her nickname since at the time actor's names were not credited in film titles nor divulged by the studios.  This all changed in 1910 when Carl Laemmle founded his IMP (Independent Moving Pictures) Company in 1910.  To stir publicity for his new studio, Laemmle, who had just hired Griffith away from Biograph, started a rumor that she had been killed in a streetcar accident.  Days later he announced to everybody's relief she was still alive, and would soon be appearing in IMP productions.  Overnight everyone knew her name, and as legend has it, the star system was born.
Paramount stars Vivian Martin (c. 1916-19), Lina Cavalieri (c. 1917-19), and Enid Bennett (c. 1918-20)
The emergence of the star system is also evident in lantern slides of the silent era, particularly in the late 1910s.  While most coming attraction slides promote specific film titles, it is not uncommon to find studio issued slides directly promoting star personalities. 

G.M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson (c. 1911-16)
The practice of using slides to promote individual stars appears to have run its course by the the early 1920s.  I have approximated the dates on these examples based on the years the performers were under contract to their respective studios.  Considering the stylistic similarities of the Artcraft and Paramount samples, it seems reasonable to assume they were produced in roughly the same time frame, probably around 1917-18.  The G.M. Anderson slides are somewhat more difficult to date.  Anderson starred in his "Broncho Billy" westerns from 1911 to 1916, but given that I have discovered no motion picture advertising slides prior to 1913, it seems reasonable to assume that these two slides were produced some time between 1913 and 1916.

July 24, 2010

Women in Bondage!

Women in Bondage (Mongram, 1943)
And now for something completely different...  Wartime slides from the Charles Potter company of Toronto, Canada.  The films promoted by these three slides are considerably different even though the promotional strategies and graphic designs are virtually identical.   

Two-Man Submarine (Columbia, 1943)
Women in Bondage (Mongram, 1943) focuses on the subjugation of Germany's women during the Third Reich which (naturally) includes their duty to produce strong Aryan children for The Fatherland.  The slide for Women in Bondage (try Googling that if you want an eye full) lacks the inflammatory written text featured in the next two slides, but who needs it when you have graphics that include a woman in a red dress chained to a post and an SS officer with a whip?

Two-Man Submarine (Columbia, 1944)  is a low-budget wartime spy thriller revolving around a secret drug and a remote South Pacific island behind Japanese lines.  At a time when the war in the Pacific still raged, the slide graphics make for wonderful propaganda with the battling hero (Tom Neal) punching out a Japanese soldier while the text shouts out "JAP ATROCITIES AVENGED BY TWO YANKS BENT ON REVENGE."  Given a graphic design that includes an exploding submarine, floating wreckage, and a bound and gagged Ann Savage, clearly those yanks have the right to be fighting mad.

None Shall Escape (Columbia, 1944)
Featuring graphics that include Nazi officers, a defiant woman (once again in a red dress), and two (two!) prostrate women-in-arms, None Shall Escape (Columbia, 1944) transports us to a post war trail where Nazi criminals face justice ("FOR THEIR CRIMES:  WE SHALL JUDGE THEM!) for their atrocities which are reviewed in flashback.  By most reviews None Shall Escape was well regarded (much more than the other two) with Alexander Knox in particular singled out for his portrayal of Nazi brutality.  One surprising aspect of the film is that it addresses the true nature of German concentration camps a year before the fall of Berlin, and predicted that Nazi perpetrators would be tried in a Nuremburg-like tribunal two years before the trials eventually convened.

While wartime slides typically go sensationally over-the-top, these slides from Charles Potter display their own distinctive graphic style.  Each features a photo-montage of critical elements, the most prominent of which being bound women or women in peril (with obvious and undeniable subtext).  The typographical design elements are also consistent, with diagonal film titles in two or three-color block letters proximately associated with wonderfully sensational rhetoric.  These elements, in combination with a consistent color palate, make make the Potter slides easy to distinguish from other manufacturers of the period.

Regardless of the films promoted, these wartime slides stand on their own as delightfully graphic propaganda pieces.  Women in chains!  Nazis with whips!  "Jap Atrocities!"  Shocking Stories!  Even if patrons never returned to see the advertised film, audiences viewing these slides undoubtedly got the message.

July 23, 2010

Variations on a (color) Theme

Color has been part of the cinematic experience from the very beginning.  Even the earliest films used color to enhance the spectatorial experience.  As early as 1896 filmmakers experimented with increasingly sophisticated techniques in attempt to bring bring color to the screen.  These techniques included hand coloring and stencil coloring to realistically color the filmed image, as well as tinting and toning which completely bathed filmed sequences with a single color.
Frames from early hand-colored films (left to right):  The Great Train Robbery (1903),  Dancers from Théâtre du Châtelet (1896), and Le chaudron infernal (1903).
The unique hand-crafted aspect of early film coloring is one of the many reasons that each early film print must be considered to be a unique artifact.  No two are alike.  Each instance is unique in its manufacture and history, and the marks and scars it bears from its past confirm its artifactual integrity.

In many aspects, early coming attraction slides bear the same unique characteristics as early film prints.  To manufacture the glass slides, black and white images were photographically developed on glass panes after which color dyes were individually hand-brushed onto the photo emulsion.  Though slides of the same design can appear to be identical, it is not uncommon to find considerable variation.  Looking the two The Black Pirate (1926) slides below, the coloring is similar but it doesn't take long to pick out the differences:

The Black Pirate (1926)
In the case of these two slides for Omar the Tentmaker (1922) the border color is the most obvious difference, but a closer look reveals more subtle differences as well.

Omar the Tentmaker (1922)
Early motion picture coloring techniques included individual frame coloring (applying multiple colors within each film image) as well as color tinting (applying a single color wash to an entire film sequence).  These same techniques were employed in coloring coming attraction slides.  Here are two contrasting examples where the different techniques were used to color the same image.

The Social Cub (1916)

The Fox (1921)
Like the films they once promoted, the surviving lantern slides of the silent era stand as unique artifacts of cinema's earliest days.  Each bears its own historical witness, and each, as John Ruskin once wrote ,"connects forgotten ages with each other... in that golden stain of time..."

Toby's Bow (1919)




July 22, 2010

Anatomy of a Slide

While magic lantern slides came in many formats and sizes, only two sizes were used within the context of professional cinema.  Slides used in the United States were a standardized rectangular 3 ¼ x 4 inches, while outside the U.S.  the dimension most commonly used is 3 ¼ inch square.
American slide for Lady with a Past (1932) and Australian slide for Man in the Trunk (1942)
Slide construction can be found in two basic designs: a double-pane construction consisting of two pieces of glass held together by a tape binding around the edge, or a single pane of glass surrounded by a double thick cardboard frame.  Slides were originally developed with the double-pane design wherein one pane of glass bears the photographic emulsion containing the image and the second pane is placed over the emulsion to protect the image.  The two panes are then bound together, usually with black adhesive tape or paper.  Most commercial slide manufacturers also included a thin paper border between the glass plates prior to sealing on which was printed the manufacturers name and address as is the case with the example on the left pictured below.
Double pane construction on left: The Sheik (1921).  Single pane construction example on right: On Guard (1927).  Both slides produced by Excelsior Illustrating Co.
In 1924 a new construction method came into practice.  This innovative design surrounded the image-bearing glass with a thick cardboard frame and eliminated the pane of protective glass required by the double-pane design.  According to the April 9, 1923 patent application, only "a single piece of glass is used, thus affording a considerable saving in the material," furthermore noting that slides using the old double-pane construction "are heavy to handle" and thereby expensive to ship.   The patent for this innovation (U.S. patent #1,500,025) was granted July 1, 1924 and this date can often be found printed on slides manufactured using this design (a source of endless confusion to eBay sellers who often assume it is the release date for the film).

Despite the presumed advantages of the cardboard frame design, double-pane construction was not abandoned and continued to be used into the 1980s.  Therefore, while you can be certain that a slide framed with cardboard was manufactured after the April 1923 patent application, the inverse does not necessarily hold true.

July 21, 2010

Not Just the Silent Era

Australian slide for Raging Bull (1980)
While 1913 is the apparently marks the beginning of when lantern slides were used to advertise coming attractions, it has been significantly more challenging to find the terminus of the practice.  In the United States the use of slides, at least in certain venues, continued into the early 1950s while in other countries the practice continued decades longer.  By way of example, last month I purchased this Australian slide for Raging Bull (1980) as part of an auction lot of Australian slides from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.  The most recent slide in the collection was Poltergeist (1982) which is the most recent slide I've found from Australia.   One thing to note about these Australian slides is that they adhere to the classic lantern slide format, including a blank space in the bottom for the theatre to add the date. They aren't just poster reproductions, the graphic design is specific to the lantern slide medium.

Developing timelines for lantern slide use on a country-by-country basis is one of my research goals.  My methodology for compiling this information has been to search for examples as well as to delve into trade magazines and exhibitor manuals to the extent possible.  Thus far, I have found evidence that establishes the following bounds for professionally produced coming attraction slides:
  • Australia:  1942-1982
  • Canada:  1943-1944
  • England:  1926-1956
  • India:  1964-1968
  • United States:  1913-1952
I am absolutely positive these date ranges will expand as more examples come to the fore.  In fact, the only reason I include this information now is to encourage readers (such as yourself) to come forward with examples beyond what I have discovered thus far.

Slide of the Day: Hell's Angels

Hell's Angels (1930)
I love everything about this slide.  In a single image it tells you everything that you need to know about the picture.  You've got airplanes, zeppelins, war, action, excitement, and of course our blonde bombshell and her seductively bared shoulder.  The color just pops, and I especially enjoy the use of red used to tie together the fire with the film title and Jean Harlow's ruby lips.

In the Beginning

The Wreck (1913)
 According to Lisa Kernan in her book Coming Attractions:  Reading American Movie Trailers,
"The precursors to trailers were magic lantern slides resembling posters, each film identified with titles and images of its stars of significant elements of its iconography.  These were projected between features much like today's slides of local restaurant advertising and movie trivia quizzes." 
Kernan goes on to quote Lou Harris, head of Paramount's trailer division in the 1960s as attributing the first trailer to be one shown in 1912 at Rye Beach, New York.

While Kernan's chronology places lantern slide advertising prior to the development of movie trailers, I have been unable to locate any examples of coming attraction slides prior to 1913.  Of course lantern slide projections were a regular aspect of film programming from the very beginning (sing-alongs, entertainment, local advertising, etc.) but the use of slides to advertise upcoming film programs seems by all evidence to begin in 1913.

Were coming attraction slides used prior to 1913?  The search for evidence continues...

July 15, 2010

Welcome to STARTS THURSDAY!

Saved by Wireless (1915)
Welcome to STARTS THURSDAY!  I was a teenager when I first encountered coming attraction slides.  At the time I was a devoted fan of the silent era (some things never change) and spent most of the money I earned on Super 8 prints from the Blackhawk Film Company of Davenport, Iowa.  I was especially fascinated by the three Kings of Comedy and the quest of my adolescence was to obtain prints of all twelve of the shorts Chaplin created while with the Mutual Film Company.  I never quite got them all, but I came pretty close.  Of course, they are all now available as a set on DVD at a cost far lower than the individual celluloid prints I was buying in the 1970s.

One special reel I specifically remember purchasing from was a slide show of silent film coming attractions.  After viewing the compilation over and over, I eventually cut it into individual segments and spliced the pieces on to the fronts of many of my favorite titles.  Henceforth, many of my home screenings began with a couple of slides.

Thirty years later, I remain fascinated by the history represented by these artifacts, and just as equally I enjoy their unique artistic and aesthetic qualities.  With STARTS THURSDAY! I hope not only to share my passion for these images, but more importantly to provide a forum for sharing the modest amount of knowledge I have acquired regarding the medium and, hopefully, to encourage others to contribute what they have learned as well.